In my experience, more than any other component found on a bicycle, pedals elicit a near-religious loyalty among users. It may be that because cleat design will remain static to a degree that even the number of cogs on a cassette will not, people have more years of use on a system and are more likely to develop less a preference than an accustom. We tend to like those things we’ve used for long periods of time. After all, if we didn’t like them, we would have switched, so the longer we use them, the more we tend to think what we’re using is the best thing going.
Generally speaking, there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, if you like what you use, and it poses no problems for you, why not continue to use it?
It is into this particular world of settled opinion and calcified satisfaction that I thrust the Ritchey Echelon WCS pedals. The challenge is that pedals accepting the Look cleat have been around since shoulder pads were the hot look in women’s fashions. Good thing they have a greater functional benefit.
In addition to Look, we’ve had Shimano, Wellgo, Campagnolo, Sampson and a score of other manufacturers make pedals designed to accept the Look cleat. Had it not been for Time, and Shimano’s ill-advised decision to take the SPD platform to the road, Look might have become the industry standard. But not only is that three-bolt fixing standard still in play, the cleat itself remains mostly unchanged.
It begs the question: What has changed in all that time? Okay, so the cleat went from black to red, meaning from fixed to floating. The Keo cleat also reduced the stack height between the center of the pedal spindle and the foot. Most manufacturers have increased both the number and the quality of the bearings used. Spring release tension is adjustable (has been for, oh … at least 20 years). The pedal body shape has been refined to increase lean-angle clearance. And let’s not forget weight. Some early examples (Mavic, anyone?) might as well have been constructed from depleted plutonium so heavy were they.
For six months I’ve been riding a range of pedals: the Ritchey Echelons as well as a couple of others, including the new Shimano Dura-Ace 9000s. While the Shimano cleat is slightly different than the Look Keo, I consider them of a piece; they’re not fundamentally different, the way Time and Speedplay are.
By any critical measure, these pedals are reasonably light, weighing in at 250 grams. Unfortunately, Ritchey claims they weigh only 233g, which makes this the first Ritchey product I’ve encountered that strayed from the advertised weight by more than five percent. Still, 250g for the pedals, combined with 77g for the cleats one of the lightest pedal systems on the market for less than $200. This is where the Echelons show best—value. At just $159 for the set with cleats and hardware, they are more than $100 less than the corresponding Shimanos (not to mention a few other competitors.
The Echelons use a two bearings: an outer, sealed-cartridge bearing, and a needle bearing in the middle. Inboard duties are handled by a lightweight bushing. Spring tension is adjustable, and while I didn’t check torque values, I can say anecdotally, it goes from light enough for a panicked escape to grab-a-stop-sign-cuz-I’m-falling-over tight.
Having ridden in so many different pedals of late, I came to only one firm conclusion on the subject of pedals using Look-style cleats. Because of where I live, which is to say a place where there are stop lights and stop signs for 30 miles in every direction except west, I stop like a sitcom has ads. It’s annoying, but it’s a fact of my life. What surprised me about the Echelon pedals was that I eventually noticed I was able to catch the tongue of the cleat more reliably with them than with any similar pedal. There are lights that are just too long to track stand through at the end of a long ride, so I want a pedal that allows me to roll away from a light with something approaching haste. If I have to stop pedaling and look down for a moment, that’s a fail.
One factor that contributes to the success or failure of a pedal in this regard isn’t so much the weight of the pedal but the weight delta from the front of the pedal to the rear of the pedal. The greater that delta, the more likely a pedal is to hang, rather than spin due to bearing drag. A tiny amount of bearing drag will cause the pedal to sit motionless until the pedal reaches the top of the pedal stroke, the point at which most riders will attempt to clip the second foot in. That pause will cause the rear end of the pedal to overcome the bearing drag and spin forward. Practically speaking, it means often putting your foot down on the bottom of the pedal, rather than engaging it. Not good for quick getaways. I’ll hasten to add that I had to ride each pedal for more than 500 miles to make sure that I wasn’t just encountering drag from the bearing seal.
It’s this one, tiny little detail that caused me to love this pedal. If I lived 50 miles outside of Cedar Rapids, with corn fields surrounding my home, different story. Add in the fact that it costs less than a night in a nice hotel, and you’ve got one of my favorite pedals of the last few years.